Pianoman uses music to inspire students’ passions

HANCOCK – Ann Arbor-based musician Mark Braun uses music to inspire students to pursue their passions, and Wednesday he brought his message, and a piano he tows behind a specially-constructed bicycle, to Hancock Central High School.

Braun spoke to the students in social studies and English teacher Stephen Smith class urging them to not be afraid to sometimes look foolish in pursuit of their passions. He hoped they would ask a lot of questions during his talk.

“I will have failed a little bit if you don’t ask questions,” he said.

During his talk Braun played boogie woogie piano tunes, some of which he made up on the spot. He also gave a little history lesson about the music.

“This is an African American form, almost exclusively,” he said.

Braun said he doesn’t read music, but that didn’t stop him from playing the piano.

“I learned by seeking out people I wanted to know,” he said.

He would go to the homes of musicians he admired and wanted to learn from and ask them if they would teach him some aspects of piano playing.

“I had to make opportunities for myself,” he said.

That concept of making their own opportunities can apply to any interest they have, Braun told the students. They should look the person they admire in the eye, tell that person they respect him or her, and ask for help.

“It could be any darn thing,” he said. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you just ask for help.”

Braun said there are probably many people with similar interests in every community. Stepping outside traditional venues can provide valuable information.

Braun said many people helped him as he was learning his art, and he thinks he needs to do the same.

“I just felt I had to reflect that back somehow,” he said.

It’s important to take advantage of any opportunity which may present itself, but Braun said he regrets one opportunity he didn’t take when members of an African American church asked him to play gospel piano for them, but he declined for several reasons.

“I would have learned so much,” he said. “I would have been such a better musician.”